New Report Offers Insight Into Concussions in Youth Sports

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Concussions continue to be in the news due to increased awareness of the risk of this type of brain trauma – and potential long-term consequences – to athletes. But much of the news has focused on the National Football League. But what about sports-related concussions in younger athletes?

    Experts realize that more information is needed to understand what happens to young athletes’ brains when concussed. Therefore, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council called together an expert committee that reviewed the science of sports-related concussions in young people. The experts looked both at youth sports that start during elementary school as well as high school and college. The committee’s task was to identify issues that have been identified by researchers as well as to make recommendations for a broad range of stakeholders, including policymakers, research funding organizations, educators, military organizations, equipment manufacturers, parents and young athletes so that the incidence of sports-related concussions can be reduced.

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    There were three major issues that the report that the committee developed brings up. One issue is a culture of resistance that is evident in many sports where athletes are at risk. "In surveys, youth profess that the game and team are more important than their individual health and that they may play through a concussion to avoid letting down their teammates, coaches, school and parents,” the report stated.  I would suggest that this mindset is based on several factors. The first is what they have seen previously in the professional ranks of sports, where athletes who got their “bell run” were encouraged to immediately jump back into the game. Secondly, people can’t see the brain; therefore, it’s hard to think that it may be injured when you can’t actually view any bruising, gushing blood or swelling. Finally, I believe that athletes at this age (and possibly their parents) don’t have a real understanding of the body’s frailty. They don’t think that the issues that are now being uncovered related to head injuries at the professional level will potentially have an impact on young players.

    Additionally, the report noted that there is not a central repository of concussion data that paint the picture of how many young athletes are suffering concussions. "There is currently a lack of data to accurately estimate the incidence of sports-related concussions across a variety of sports and for youth,” the report’s authors stated. “Nevertheless, existing data suggest that sports-related concussions represent a significant public health concern.''

    The other point brought up in the report is that research about headgear (i.e., football helmets, etc.) suggests that these types of equipment may not really reduce the risk of concussion, although these types of safety equipment – when properly fitted – can reduce the risk of other injuries, such as skull fracture. Mouth guards and face masks also do not protect against concussions, although these types of headgear do prevent other types of injuries to the teeth, mouth, eyes and face.

  • So what were the recommendations from this report? Here goes:

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    • A national surveillance system needs to be created so that sports-related concussions among youth are tracked. This data should include information on protective equipment used, as well as the causes and extent of injuries suffered.
    • Additional financial support should be provided to allow researchers to study how to improve concussion diagnosis as well as to create guidelines for managing concussions for this specific demographic.
    • Longitudinal studies should be conducted on the effect of concussions and repetitive head impacts over an athlete’s lifespan. The report recommends the creation of a national brain tissue bank in order to facilitate this recommendation.
    • A rigorous scientific evaluation should be conducted about the effectiveness of age-appropriate techniques and rules, as well as playing and practice standards in relation to reducing sports-related concussions.
    • Funding should be provided for research on age-related as well as sex-related differences in the risk for concussions.
    • The NCAA, the National Federation of State High School Associations and other key stakeholders that work with young athletes need to create “large-scale efforts to increase knowledge about concussions and change the culture (social norms, attitudes, and behaviors) surrounding concussions among elementary school through college-aged youth and their parents, coaches, sports officials, educators, trainers, and health care professionals.''

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Institute of Medicine. (2013). Sports-related concussions in youth: Improving the science, changing the culture.

    Mihoces, G. (2013). Report calls for action on concussions. USA Today.

Published On: October 31, 2013